Illustration of Jack Worthing in a top hat and formal attire, and a concerned expression on his face

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde
Start Free Trial

In The Importance of Being Earnest, how does the theme of appearance vs reality take place in Algernon's character?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Algernon's character is a good example of the discrepancy between appearances and reality as well as the fact that appearances can often be deceiving. For example, he appears to be a dutiful nephew to his Aunt Augusta, preparing the music for her upcoming dinner party; however, in reality, he has invented a fictitious invalid friend called Mr. Bunbury whose poor health frequently calls Algernon away from town just when he is due to appear at some boring social occasion he would rather not attend. Bunbury and his terrible health, of course, are totally made up. Rather than have to go to onerous social engagements, such as his dour aunt's dinner party, Algernon uses Bunbury, and his need to visit Bunbury, as an excuse. In this way, he still appears to be a dutiful nephew as well as a really good friend to this other poor man. He also gets to avoid events that he'd rather not attend, and he can use this time to go out and drink and carouse with his friends rather than deal with stuffy society parties. Later in the play, Algernon pretends to be Ernest, his friend Jack Worthing's fictitious brother, and, in this way, gains entry to Jack's country home and access to Jack's "excessively pretty ward," the eighteen-year-old Cecily Cardew.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team